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Friday, September 28, 2012

Kate Morton Will Wow Her Fans Again. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Kate Morton's legion of fans will love this book! Suspense-filled and lyrically written, The Secret Keeper was 'unputdownable'.

The book begins with sixteen-year old Laurel, the eldest sister of a large family, who is sitting in the tree-house of the family home in peaceful Suffolk.  It is the 1960's and Laurel dreams of her latest 'crush' and leaving home.  Everything changes when she witnesses her mother killing a strange man.

Many years later, Laurel's mother, Dorothy, is dying in hospital and Laurel, now a famous actress, wants to discover the truth about the past.  The story expertly switches between Laurel's search and a young Dorothy in the war years.  Dorothy works as a companion to a wealthy elderly lady in London and is engaged to Jimmy, an ambitious photographer.  When Dorothy, desperate and in need of money, meets beautiful and wealthy Vivien, trouble starts.

The plot has almost too many twists and turns but Kate Morton keeps us involved and we really care about the main protagonists of the story.  There are few clues about Dorothy's uncharacteristic action and Kate Morton really does keep readers guessing until the very last minute. 

The terrible atmosphere of war-torn London - the bombings and the fear - is vivid and detailed. It contrasts with the lovingly described beauty of the Suffolk countryside and a peaceful, modern London.

I also liked the nods to Pride and Prejudice but I couldn't work out their connections with the story - I am going to write and ask Kate Morton about this soon!

I still like this author's first book, The House at Riverton, the best but The Secret Keeper is second on my list.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whatever is Lovely: Design for an Elegant Spirit by Marsha Maurer

(Silk Scarves) Public Domain Picture 

Designed to help women achieve elegance, harmony, and grace, Whatever is Lovely is well-written and filled with memorable quotations, including Christian ones, and helpful advice about every aspect of life. These include decoration, being a good hostess, and taking care of one's soul. Maurer also shares anecdotes from her own life as examples. I especially liked the rituals which she shares with her husband on Michael Mass Day and the stories about her travels.

It's all quite difficult to live up to, but it's very inspiring. The picture of Maurer is also inspiring because she looks exactly like the kind of person who lives the life which she describes. I read this on my Kindle but I'd like the actual book. I'm also interested in reading more books by this author


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden

Molly Fox, an enigmatic actress, lends her lovely, book-filled house in Dublin to her friend, a playwright struggling with writer's block.  Molly is away in New York acting in a play.  While she stays there, Molly's friend muses about the nature of friendship, her feelings for their close friend, Andrew, the Irish Troubles and many other things.  As she comes to terms with her life and feelings, she discovers herself.

This was short-listed for the Orange Prize of 2009 and it's a memorable and haunting novel which is beautifully written.  It is somewhat wordy but every word counts and it's worth a second reading. 

I think that anyone who wants to read this book should really see or read The Duchess of Malta first.  It's an important part of the story and I haven't read the play.

Interview with Deirdre Madden

One Good Deed by Erin McHugh

Princess Mary with a Girl Guide

Girl Guides are supposed to do one good deed each day.  I thought that McHugh may have got this idea from them but she doesn't mention the Girl Guides.  I try to do this too - when I remember.

I was pleasantly surprised by One Good Deed, McHugh's diary about trying to do a good deed every day.  It could have been dull or preachy, but McHugh's journal entries never failed to be interesting and likable.  We cheer along with her as she gives away free ice cream to teenage girls, makes a donation at a free concert and carries a customer's heavy books up an escalator and to a taxi.  We also sympathise when she fails to find a good deed to do and she struggles to be nice even when she feels like snapping or groaning.

One Good Deed also contrasts life in McHugh's home town of New Bedford, a pretty whaling town, with life in busy New York where people find it difficult to trust each other but they're often kind and helpful anyway.

This is highly recommended and I hope to follow McHugh's example.  She may be interested to know that I did just that today - I was going to buy a 'Sizzler'  but I didn't want to wait so I donated the money to the charity instead.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An American Diplomat in Franco Spain by Michael Aaron Rockland

When Michael Aaron Rockland was offered a job as a diplomat in the 1960's in Franco's Spain his friends implored him not to go.  They couldn't understand how someone with left-wing politics would work in Spain.

Rockland did find Spain like another world compared with the U.S. but he enjoyed his time there.  This book is full of fascinating anecdotes, such as his disappointment that Martin Luther King could be ordinary, his being asked whether he had 'horns' by a drunken Spaniard and his experiences of the making of Dr. Zhivago.

He also shares lots of insights about the differences between Spanish and American culture, although I did find some of this a bit dull.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Places, Please! by Daniel Sullivan

I found this story of Daniel Sullivan's experience of rehearsing for and starring in Jersey Boys in Toronto OK, but a bit hard to read.  It's extremely detailed and sets out every aspect of the process chronologically.  I feel that it could do with more editing and tightening. Some of the anecdotes were enjoyable, such as Sullivan's meeting the real Tommy DeVito.

I'm afraid that I didn't finish this one.

Friday, September 14, 2012

From Sacred Heart to Willow Creek by Chris Haw

From Willow 
Creek to Sacred HeartFrom Willow Creek to Sacred Heart by Chris Haw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When we visited the cathedral in Sienna, the man behind us annoyed me by groaning and saying how the money spent on the cathedral should have been spent on the poor.  I should have told him that the Catholic church helps more of the poor than any other institution.

Chris Haw discusses this issue and many others in this well-written and inspiring account of why he left a Protestant evangelical church for a somewhat traditional Catholic one.  Although attracted to the heady atmosphere and showmanship of the evangelical church as a teenager, an older and university-educated Haw surprised himself by returning to Catholicism and finding a deeper meaning and spirituality there. 

He goes through many of the old arguments, such as religion versus spiirituality, faith and works, transubstantiation, and the worship of Mary.  Haw eventually agrees with Chesterton, a famous convert, about many of these topics and comes down on the side of Catholicism. He wants to reform the church from within and he writes that the true rebels were those who also wanted to do that, like St. Francis and Thomas Aquinas.

The theology is a bit difficult at times and it sometimes requires re-reading.  However, I enjoyed reading the arguments and it did strike me that Haw should have been a lawyer because he was so good at answering the criticisms of the Church! 

He is an amazingly inspiring young man who chose to live in a poor and violent neighbourhood and help the people there.  If only there were more like him.  Here he also writes about the work of the Church in this area.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Daughter’s Tale by Mary Soames

This is the loveliest book! I will definitely buy it so I can keep my own copy forever.  It was such a treat to read these reminiscences by Lady Soames, the daughter of the great Winston Churchill.

She begins with an account of her idyllic life at Chartwell in the beautiful countryside.  Here she enjoyed life with a menagerie of animals, watching the antics of her siblings, and riding and even bricklaying with her father.  She felt somewhat isolated from her siblings because she was the youngest and they were several years older so she describes herself as a bit ‘odd’.  However, glamour touched on her life even then.  Important politicians and artists, such as the painter, John Lavery, visited and young Mary had a hand in helping her sister, Sarah, elope!

Life soon became a splendid whirl of dances, balls, and several romances for the young and pretty debutante.  Queen Charlotte’s Ball certainly seems like a fairytale event. Her teenage years were touched by sadness, however.  A broken engagement made her feel guilty and lessened her confidence somewhat.  

Mary Churchill had to grow up impossibly fast when the dark days of the war came.  She describes these eventful years and the impact it had on her father, who became Prime Minister, especially vividly.  Overhearing her father say that women would have to do the work of men now, Mary impetuously decided to join the war effort.  She entered the mixed batteries and eventually became a Junior Commander in charge of over 200 young women.  Although London was under fire and being devastated by terrible bombings, she still managed to have a good time on occasion – there were still visits to nightclubs, romances and enjoyable family occasions.

Some of the most interesting events in the book occur when Mary travels with her father to important conferences in Canada and Berlin.  She is in a position to describe MacKenzie  King, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a ‘cosy old thing’ and Roosevelt as a ‘cute, cunning old bird’!  Her joy at being able to help her father on these occasions shines through the book.

Her agony at watching her father suffer when important battles are lost during the course of the war makes the reader feel for her. Many dreadful events are brought home to the reader in this book, such as the fall of France and the defeat at Tobruk. At one stage Mary even fell to her knees to pray because she was so unhappy about her country’s situation.  

I am not going to write about the ending but most readers will find that it’s one of their favourite parts of this wonderful book.

Lady Mary Soames Talking About Her Mother, Clementine

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rooted in Love by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

This was a lovely 'feel-better' book which is suitable for all Christian women, not just Catholic ones.  However, it will especially help Catholic women.

I found it a little bit scattered at first.  However, the author soon won me when she described how her strong faith has helped her through many sorrows and dreadful times and how it can assist all of us.  She has chapters on the power of prayer, the importance of the saints, the Mass and understanding our vocation.

Rooted in Love is filled with inspiring quotations and anecdotes about the author's time with Mother Teresa and other incidents in her life. 

I will read more books by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Princess Elizabeth (Public Domain Images Wordpress)

This charming mystery grabbed me from the start when feisty Maggie Hope is struggling with the physical requirements of becoming a spy.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have any luck but she feels somewhat better when she is chosen to protect young Princess Elizabeth from a death threat.  Her job is to pretend to be a Maths tutor to the teenage princess at Windsor Castle.

Here she has to stay with a fairly nasty pair of girls (one even has a pet snake), a drunken ex-soldier and various other strange characters.  Although the setting is luxurious, Maggie is certainly within 'a nest of vipers', except for a few exceptions, such as the princesses.  Princess Elizabeth is portrayed as a sweet and bright girl who comes into her own when she has to deal with a terrible situation.

Maggie, a clever American woman, is a likeable and brave heroine.  The other characters are also well-rounded.  I especially liked Hugh, a fellow spy, and Maggie's mysterious father.

Susan Elia MacNeal  captures the era well.  The fear which envelops London, the terrible bombings and even the fog make the reader feel that they're in wartime London.

The luxurious settings are described vividly and I also liked the descriptions of the fashions.  I have been to Windsor and Susan Elia MacNeal made me feel that I was back there when I read her account of it.

I do have a few problems with Princess Elizabeth's Spy, however.  There are lots of plots here and I wonder whether there are too many and the story could have been a bit tighter.

Another minor flaw was some of the language. An English person said that someone had 'passed', meaning he or she had died.  This is an American expression and I found it's use here grating.  It's coming into fashion here, unfortunately, but I always add 'away'.

I am sorry that  I haven't read the first book in this series.  I'll certainly read the next one!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Beach Less Travelled: From Corporate Chaos to Flip-Flop Perfumer by John Berglund

John Berglund once worked as a high-powered attorney in the U.S. but he always dreamed of becoming a perfumer on a tropical island.  This is the delightful tale of how he and his wife, Cindy, made his dream come true on the Caribbean island of St. Martins.

This was a delightful and humorous look at moving to another country and establishing a business there.  I especially liked the sections on the history of perfume and the story of Berglund's antique perfume bottle collection.  I skipped over the ubiquitous chapters on dealing with the unhelpful French bureacracy, however.

This book also provides some helpful lessons for those who want to set up a business.  Berglund writes about choosing a name, branding, and marketing, for example.

I hope that this book sells well and attracts many more tourists to Tijon.  I wish that I could visit!

Simple Skincare, Beautiful Skin: A Back to Basics Approach by Dr. Abdullah

Simple Skincare, Beautiful Skin is an interesting and helpful book which explains the science behind skin, many skin problems, and the best way in which to take care of your skin.

I especially liked the sections about eczema and dermatitis and the factors which cause the skin to age.  These include sunlight and stress.  Dr. Abdullah also deals with the effects of different medications on the skin.

He recommends using a four-step process which includes exfoliants.  I've got sensitive skin so I've had trouble with exfoliants.  However, I might start trying them again.  Apparently, they can cause problems, such as redness, for a few weeks but the skin gets used to them.

Dr. Abdullah also gets rid of some myths about skin.  For example, he doesn't agree that water-based skin products are the best.  He likes different bases, such as aloe vera.  Dr. Abdullah uses aloe vera in his own range of products: Lexli.

This book also recommends the ingredients to look for when you choose skin products.  The author explains the history behind most of these products, which is interesting.

Monday, September 03, 2012

My First Coup d'État and Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa by John Dramani Mahama

The small boy, only seven years old, waited for his father to pick him up from school and watched as the other children were picked up by their parents.  His father never turned up and he had to stay at school for the holidays while the teachers searched for someone in his family.  He found out that his father, a Member of Parliament, had been arrested in a coup d'etat and put in jail.

This coup d'etat had a profound effect on John Dramani Mahama's life.  The sufferings of his father and the economic hardships of Ghana later made him determined to help his country on the road to democracy.

This coup was apparently the first of several. Mahama saw how violence and dictatorships caused poverty, corruption,  fear and exile for talented people who wanted to escape to prosperous and democratic countries.  Life was not difficult all of the time, however.  Some of Mahama's teenage years were idyllic.  He enjoyed going to discos with his brothers and enjoyed good times during the years when his father got out of jail and established a business.

A clever boy, Mahama was chosen by his father from his many sons to attend a private boarding school.  Here he was told that he had great potential and the 'ability to make his father very proud'. He studied at university in Ghana and at Moscow. A socialist teacher at school made him attracted to seeing Soviet Communism in action.

Mahama, who is now the President of Ghana, tells an interesting story about his background and his early education.  There are exotic tales about the history and legends of Ghana and his large family.  I also found the part about Mahama's stay in Russia and his disillusionment with Communism especially interesting.

I didn't know much about Ghana before reading the book and My First Coup d'État and Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa has made me want to know more about it.